New drive-through window ban raises red flags

New drive-through window ban raises red flags

Minneapolis has become the nation’s first major city to ban new drive-through facilities. While the measure is hailed by those want a more walkable and bikeable city, it is viewed warily by many people with disabilities and their advocates.

The ban was adopted in August by the City Council. Existing drive-throughs can remain, and projects in the city approval process can go ahead. But new businesses wanting to add a drive-through lane or lanes are out of luck.

The approved ordinance affects banks, restaurants, coffee shops, pharmacies and any other type of “facility which accommodates automobiles and from which the occupants of the automobiles may make purchases or transact business.”

Planning Commission and City Council members contend the ban not only is needed to make the city safer for pedestrians, it also would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The ban has been in the works for the past few years, led by City Council President Lisa Bender. It has support from many groups including the city’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

People with disabilities and the city’s Advisory Council on People with Disabilities oppose the ban. They note that for people who have mobility issues, drive-throughs are needed to pick up medicine and food, and to do banking.

“New technology and practices have improved access to goods and services; however, it is still a necessity to advocate for barrier removal and equitable access,” Ken Rodgers, committee chairman, said in a letter to the City Council.

Residents also objected to the measure. Southeast Minneapolis resident Don Klassen, who has Parkinson’s disease, has been one of the most high-profile opponents of the ordinance. He has cited the difficulty people with disabilities have in getting through a store to get medicine or meet other needs.

But some City Council and Planning Commission members pooh-pooh those concerns. Some have said people can use delivery services. One sentiment expressed by Planning Commission Chairman Sam Rockwell is that a ban could lead to building more of a sense of community, as people help older and disabled neighbors meet their needs.

Foes of the drive-through lanes cite the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which calls for banning new drive-through facilities.

Minneapolis already had prohibitions on drive-through service in several neighborhoods. Neighborhood activists in 2016 tried to block an Uptown Walgreens from having a drive-through, by passing a “pedestrian overlay’ district. Walgreens got its drive-through but other businesses in that neighborhood faced opposition.

“This just says that we will not have any new drivethroughs in the future,” Bender said at one meeting. “We’ve already restricted drive-throughss in a number of ways.” She and other council members said existing drive-through services will remain and that businesses can renovate the facilities they have.

Other cities around the country have different forms of drive-through service restrictions. In Canada, almost 30 cities have restricted drive-through lanes for restaurants.

St. Paul has tried to restrict drive-through lanes with zoning restrictions in areas where it wants to promote high-density, walkable development. This includes neighborhoods along Snelling Avenue and the Green Line light rail.

Most cities also have a number of restrictions in place on drive-through lanes, such as requiring conditional use or other special types of permits. The permits restrict where lanes can be placed, lighting, noise from speaker boxes and other planning aspects.

But despite restrictions, many businesses seek drivethrough lanes. Some food and beverage industry experts estimate the increased business from such facilities as adding 20 percent or more to the bottom line.

Read more about the Minneapolis ordinance here.